Chicago Police Superintendent Phil Cline has convened a group of criminal and mental health experts to review policies on how officers respond to people suffering from mental illness, says the Chicago Sun-Times. The experts, including presiding criminal court Judge Paul Biebel Jr., have already met once. Cline, who will announce the new task force today, called the group together in the months after a 21-year-old bipolar woman from California was released from custody, on her own recognizance, after displaying bizarre behavior in a police lockup. Her family earlier had called officers to say she was mentally ill. After being released, the woman wandered near a housing project and was sexually assaulted in an abandoned apartment. She later fell seven stories from a window, suffering massive head and internal injuries. Disciplinary action is reportedly pending against several officers in the case.
The task force includes experts from the jail system, hospitals, mental health clinics, psychiatrists, and the city Health Department. They will try to increase understanding between the mental health and law enforcement communities and will examine training police receive about recognizing irrational behavior. It is possible the task force could lead to changes in the department’s general orders or that crisis intervention training could be expanded. Chicago officers have been trained under the national Crisis Intervention Training program that was established in 1988 in Memphis. “I think it’s a shame that we are basically asking the police to be the front-line responders to people in crisis,” said Ron Honberg of the National Alliance on Mental Illness.